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Predators excited to be part of unique Winter Classic in Dallas

Playing the game in Texas shows a different side of hockey fans, and Nashville amps up that concept

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As much as the Winter Classic is going to mean a lot to the City of Dallas and the Stars, it's also a pretty big deal for the Nashville Predators.

The Stars were announced as the host of the 2020 Winter Classic outdoor hockey game at Cotton Bowl Stadium on New Year's Day, and the Predators were announced as the opponent during the All-Star Game weekend. Making this a Sunbelt Classic means a lot to both organizations, as they are getting exposure and recognition that has often been reserved for more traditional teams in the past.

"I've never played in one and I don't think many of our players here have played in one, so I think it's awesome," said Nashville captain Roman Josi. "I think it will be a new thing for a lot of people."

And that's sort of the idea. Playing the game in Dallas shows a different side of hockey fans, and including the Predators amps up that concept. But the idea isn't without some background. The Vegas Golden Knights showed a festival side to their arena in a run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The Predators did the same thing with Nashville the year before.

"You see these cities in the south, all these people loving hockey. I can speak for Nashville, it's unbelievable. The support we get, the atmosphere, it's so much fun. I think the fans deserve something like this," Josi said. "I think the sport is awesome to play, to watch, and the fans really get into it. Going to the Stanley Cup finals really helped us here, but I just think fans like it no matter where they are. This city has been great, so I think that just shows it there."

The Predators have become one of the top teams in the league, and the Stars are trying to scale the standings. By the time the two teams meet next season, they might both be Cup contenders. At the very least, they will be stacked with key players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban and Josi.

"I think it's going to be great," said Subban. "I think these are two deserving teams. They've got a lot of great players on that team that deserve to be in a game like this, and so do we. The same with the City of Nashville and the City of Dallas. It's good to get this kind of attention, I love it."

Subban also handles the attention well. One of the league's top showman, he has been impressive during previous outdoor games and in the lead-up television shows that often accompany them. When Montreal played Boston, Subban had a pair of old-fashioned skates made to fit the "classic" vibe of the uniforms.

Having Subban involved should help make this a big event, and his style could rub off on some of his teammates or some of the Stars players.

"Everybody has to do what they're comfortable with, what makes them who they are. You can't force something," Subban said. "What comes natural for me, it might not be what comes natural for someone else. I just think if it comes from a team concept, then it will probably be a positive. My teammates have been accepting and supportive of what I do, and that means a lot to me."

Subban said putting yourself out there for a game like the Winter Classic doesn't distract from the performance on the ice, but actually enhances it. He said that by hyping the event as huge, you then have to perform huge.

"I think it makes you want to go the extra mile for your teammate too," Subban said. "When they are supportive of things that are important to me, I definitely want to be there for them. It's just a good feeling."

And a good feeling is what both teams have about the Winter Classic.

"It's unbelievable," said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette. "I've been involved in two of them, and they really are a big deal. It takes a regular game and it makes it a big deal. And it happens in the middle of the year when you can use that kind of lift, that kind of break. I feel fortunate to have been involved in them, and I know our group feels the same way about Nashville participating in this game.

"It's an honor to be a part of a big day in the National Hockey League like that."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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